St. Augustine vice mayor floats looking for new city manager

CHRISTINA.KELSO@STAUGUSTINE.COM Traffic moves through Uptown on San Marco Avenue on Wednesday, Jan. 17, 2018. St. Augustine Vice Mayor Todd Neville focused on mistakes made in the mobility effort, including losing a plan for shuttle lanes on San Marco Avenue, as a reason to look for a new city manager.

At a Wednesday meeting, St. Augustine Vice Mayor Todd Neville called for city commissioners to consider replacing City Manager John Regan.

 

Neville said the city has repeatedly missed goals set by the commission, including for mobility efforts.

“I think we’ve gotten as far as we can with this leadership. I really do,” Neville said. “I think it’s time that this commission talks about that and has a real, honest discussion about if we’re going to achieve the things in mobility and infrastructure that we need, is it time that we talk about a leadership change.”

Other commissioners didn’t support the idea of replacing Regan, who puts the commission’s policy decisions into action. The officials met at 8 a.m. in a small conference room at City Hall to evaluate Regan’s job performance. Usually commissioners have individual evaluations each year with Regan, but Neville said he called the meeting because of his concerns.

Commissioner Leanna Freeman said she disagreed that the city is missing goals, adding that she’s seen improvements “almost in any area” since she joined the commission in 2008.

“And on top of it we have a healthy budget after the two hurricanes,” she said. “That’s the bottom line.”

When she asked Neville to be more specific, he focused on mobility — the city’s top priority — as an example.

The first mobility director hired a few years ago was the wrong hire, which delayed the project, Neville said. The city also got a poor response from residents when Regan chose a mobility advisory task force to help guide a contractor hired to lead one of the past phases of the project. Also, the city failed to get the Florida Department of Transportation to put shuttle lanes on San Marco Avenue as part of the department’s repaving project.

Business owners opposed the project because it would have taken away on-street parking, and Neville blamed the idea’s failure on mismanagement.

Mayor Nancy Shaver disagreed.

“I think what we did was have … something that seemed at that moment in time as if it was something that should go forward,” Shaver said. “We learned very quickly … that we had gotten way ahead of the community.”

Though she agreed there have been “misfires” in mobility, Freeman said mobility is something the city can’t quantify.

“Until we have less people coming here, we’re going to struggle with mobility,” Freeman said. “And I don’t see that happening any time in the near future, and the question becomes how much money do we throw at it trying to resolve what we can?”

Commissioner Nancy Sikes-Kline, who serves on the North Florida Transportation Planning Organization board, reminded commissioners that improving transportation issues is difficult.

“I think we create unrealistic expectations on mobility,” she said.

Sikes-Kline said Regan could improve on managing commissioners’ expectations in general, but she said he excels at community engagement and outreach.

Shaver said she believes the mobility project is on track, but she’d like to see improvements overall in the city’s program management and customer service. Shaver said she’d also like to see more detailed progress reports given to the public on key efforts.

Some commissioners said, though, that they were concerned about micromanaging projects and getting into the daily operations of the city.

While he acknowledged a hiring mistake for the mobility project, Regan said the biggest issues in mobility are under construction. He also said the San Marco Avenue effort was hurt because the city didn’t get enough confidence from people in the area in the city’s alternative parking plan.

Regan also spoke at length about his and the city’s accomplishments and recent challenges.

Among other things, he said commission meetings that dealt with the city’s Confederate monument were peaceful and secure, the city has been dealing with the impact of two hurricanes and the city is working on decreasing the amount of panhandling downtown.

“So I feel very good about what I do,” Regan said. “I know one day I’ll probably be asked not to, and that’s OK because I will tell you this is my first and last stop as a city manager. It is a complex field. It interferes with your life. … You have people taking pot shots off you all the time, and that’s the American way. … That’s what keeps us honest, OK? It’s important, and I support that.”

 

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